Friday, February 18, 2011

Do you worry about living up to expectations?

You may be a successful manager or competent team member with lots of runs on the board. Your future career is looking good.

But even so, do you still experience moments of doubt? Do you ask yourself: ‘Am I good enough for this role?’ 'Will I stuff this up because I’m not ready for it?'

Or even this: “!@#^!----i shouldn't have taken this on - I’m in way over my head!

And are you reluctant to ask for help because you think you’re expected to have the answers and that others will think less of you if you don’t?

Do you get annoyed because people assume you’re too young for the responsibility, or perhaps too old?

Do you wonder where the fearlessness you had in earlier times has gone to?

Are you limiting your career prospects?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you may be on track to sabotage your potential!

Linda Hill and Kent Lineback, their Jan/Feb 2011 Harvard Business Review article say this:

Such moments of doubt and even fear may and often do come despite years of management experience. Any number of events can trigger them.

They go on:

Most bosses reach a certain level of proficiency and stop there ...too many derail and fail to live up to their potential. Why? Because they stop working on themselves.

It’s The Almond Effect® at work

When we are new to our roles we are constantly on the lookout for derailers, things that can go wrong. But over time, as we become more settled and comfortable in the role, we worry far less. In some cases, complacency sets in.

But then something triggers off the doubts, the niggles, the concerns, the worries about self-competence and capability.

It can come out of the blue or simply be the result of too much to do, too little time or too many other stressors in your life.

And these derailers come from past experiences and events where things haven’t gone as planned either for you or you have seen it happen to others.

Over our lives, a huge number of these warning signs get stored in our brain which if we haven’t mastered the STAR technique, can show up at any time with miserable results.

Can you eliminate the triggers?

Because those triggers are always there, you have two choices: eliminate them or learn techniques to manage them before they control you.

So can you eliminate them?

There is a lot of research into this, particularly in the context of post-traumatic stress syndrome. What a relief it would be for sufferers if the traumatic memories could be eradicated.

There is no commercially available means to do this at present. And if there was, the ethical questions would be enormous? For example, could someone who goes through a divorce have the memory of their previous spouse erased?

You may have seen the romantic drama film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) where this was attempted!

The challenge is that if you delete a memory, you delete a part of someone’s life. And learning from our past experiences is the way that humans learn and grow.

Neuroscience not Hollywood

Neuroscientists are making progress towards techniques to selectively master that part of our brain, our amygdala, whose sole job is to ensure our survival. It does this by recording all the times when we have been under threat and letting us know or warning us when the same or similar situation is happening again.

Drs. Roger Clem and Richard Huganir most recent study on this has expounded on earlier work (e.g. by Joseph Le Doux) that there is a window of opportunity when memories can be ‘de-potentiated’.

Clem and Huganir discovered in mice that readily removable receptors (the main chemical sensors that detect messages sent from neuron to neuron in the amygdala) are only present for a few days after inducing fear, and peak at around one day.

So if the same thing happens in humans, this may well provide a window of opportunity for removal of the fear inducing receptors. And hey presto, bad memory gone.

However as you can see this is fraught with what ifs, hurdles and obstacles before it can become a reality. Does the same thing happen in humans? How long is the window of opportunity? How finely can we pinpoint the memory? What are the side effects of any drug or physical intervention to name just a few.

And then there are ethical dilemmas, too many to start on in this CLUES.

You need your amygdala

You may have read about the case of SM who experienced such damage to her amygdala that was associated not only with a decrease in the experience of fear, but the absence of fear altogether.

There is a Catch 22 of course. As the authors (Feinstein et al) of the study note:

“The unique case of patient SM provides a rare glimpse into the adverse consequences of living life without the amygdala. For SM, the consequences have been severe. Her behavior, time and time again, leads her back to the very situations she should be avoiding, highlighting the indispensable role that the amygdala plays in promoting survival by compelling the organism away from danger. Indeed, it appears that without the amygdala, the evolutionary value of fear is lost.”

The only remedy now

So until such time as the memory specific neuro-pharmaceuticals are as available as Xanax or Ativan, the best way to control your career derailers is to learn techniques such as mindfulness and STAR – Stop Think Act Rewire.

They are going to be far more use to you in the short term and enable you to be the great manager and team member you can be.

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